'Wandering around Venice's streets out of season is sublime'

First holiday memory?

A caravan holiday in Northern Ireland when I was three, with my cousins. I have a very clear memory of it – there were visits to the circus and ice-cream. It was great fun.

Best holiday?

A holiday two years ago with my family in New Zealand, drinking in dramatic landscapes in Lord of the Rings territory. I have a friend who is half Maori and used to be a metal worker for me in London. He went home and always wanted me to visit.

Favourite place in the British Isles?

County Kerry in south-west Ireland. I love the rugged scenery, beautiful beaches, brown bread and soup, and a pint of Guinness. There's a great hotel there called the Parknasilla, where Justine and I got married.

What have you learnt from your travels?

I've learnt to pack as little as possible and also to arrive with some local currency or dollars – except in Cuba – in case nothing is open because of a delayed flight. Then when you arrive and need a taxi, you've got cash.

Ideal travelling companion?

Justine and our daughter, Eppie. We travel together whenever possible and although Eppie is only three, she is a great traveller.

Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?

I'm not really a beach person, but I love swimming in the sea. I enjoy culture in terms of architecture and wandering through cities. I also love leaf-peeping – chasing the different colours of autumn foliage through southern New Zealand in May and June.

Greatest travel luxury?

Turning left on a plane. I travel all the time and the ability to fold a seat into a bed is the one thing that makes it bearable.

Holiday reading?

My current favourites are murder-mysteries by Minette Walters, or lighter reads by Anita Notaro.

Where has seduced you?

For all the clichés, Venice is the most extraordinary city in the world. Staying at the Danieli out of season beside St Mark's Square and wandering the alleys is sublime.

Better to travel OR TO arrive?

To travel, because you are full of the hopes, possibilities and excitement of the trip.

Worst travel experience?

I didn't have a great time in Tahiti. It was expensive, nobody local seemed to care if you were there or not and, unluckily for me, I brought Irish weather with me in the middle of summer.

Worst holiday?

A holiday last January in New York, which is a city that I adore. I ended up ill with pneumonia and streptococcus.

Worst hotel?

The worst hotels are always attached to conference centres. They can charge a fortune, the service is often deplorable and they have no inherent character or charm. It's a toss-up between one whose name I don't recall in Louisville, Kentucky, where I was talking at a conference last year, and a hotel beside the NEC in Birmingham. It was a disgrace.

Best Hotel?

The Gore in Kensington, west London. It was recommended to me by friends and I have recommended it to others. It has a gentle Edwardian feel, a home-from-home atmosphere. I also have a great fondness for the Parknasilla Hotel in Kerry, where I got married. It has old-fashioned charm in a stunning location.

Favourite walk/swim/ride/drive?

Again, I love walking in the grounds of the Parknasilla in Kerry, through a rocky, undulating landscape, looking out over the Atlantic. My favourite swim would be off the island of Monserrat in the Caribbean; we went for two weeks over St Patrick's Day and we swam in the warm water as the sun was going down, miles away from rainy Ireland. My favourite trek was through the Cuban countryside and my favourite drive was with my wife through the desert, heading for Las Vegas.

Best meal abroad?

Chinatown in Manhattan, for the combination of the food and street theatre.

First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?

Put the bags in the room, then wander outside to get my bearings and have a beer in a local bar.

Dream trip?

I am about to undertake it: we're spending three days in Los Angeles, two weeks in New Zealand and two days in Hong Kong. Justine, Eppie and I are going to New Zealand to see the spectacular annual leaf colour changes – we will be focusing specifically on places such as Central Otago, Christchurch and Marlborough.

Favourite city?

Dublin. No matter how often I travel, it's lovely to come home.

Where next?

After I have completed my garden at the Chelsea Flower Show in May, I am off to the States and New Zealand. Then it's Tanzania and Kenya, and, six weeks after that, I am going to explore Chicago for the first time.

Diarmuid Gavin is supporting Air New Zealand's leaf peeping campaign this year (April-June). The airline flies twice daily from Heathrow to Auckland via both Hong Kong and LA and is the only carrier to circumnavigate the globe from London (www.airnewzealand.com)